Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Touching Feet - indeed a touchy issue for me!

Here is my take on an age old custom – touching one’s feet for seeking blessings. Being born in a Bengali Hindu family this is something taught to us as basic values (it is an important part of ‘Sanskar’). This custom has different versions to it depending upon its geographical locations…like in Bengal & Assam you have to bend down touch both the feet with your right hand and then touch your forehead. In Northern belt, you can touch the knees and then touch your forehead.
My understanding says this custom is an interpretation of regardless respect for an individual which means that even the dirt of his/her feet is so valuable and pious that you can smear your forehead with it( In Bengali it is known as ‘payer dhulo mathaye newa’ or in Hindi it is ‘Pairon ki Dhool mathey se lagana’). I am not sure about the origin of this practice and I am not going to Google for it. My motive is not to write an essay on touching feet custom but just to highlight the senseless logic behind it. I know many people would digress but this is my opinion and anybody can disagree to it.
This custom is actually a part of every Bengali custom. Few of them are:
  • Dashami of Durga Puja (tenth & last day of Navratri) would conclude with this ritual which is an integral part of Bijoya Dashami celebrations when you have to touch all the elders’ feet.
  • Marriage ceremony concludes with this ritual when you have to touch all the elders’ feet including your newlywed husband as a mark of respect.
  • Bhai-Phonta (A festival when sisters pray and celebrate it for long life of their brothers) also includes touching feet of the elder one by the younger one.
  • First day of Bengali New Year starts with touching all the elders’ feet to seek blessings.
This ritual might had made sense in earlier times but in today’s’ scenario it is completely baseless. What kind of special blessing can you receive if you touch anyone’s feet or shoes /sandals /slippers (nowadays most of the people are wearing footwear all the time unlike ancient sadhus!!!). As a kid I really hated this unhygienic part….imagine an uncle of yours is leaving for another city and you went to say him good-bye to the railway station…just before the train moves on you have complete this action to gather the best blessings …obviously he is wearing his shoes that time.
I fail to understand that if I do not touch my elder’s feet, does that makes me less respectful towards them? Those who want to bless me won’t shower it if I just bow down or do a plain ‘Namaste’ (folding hands, joining your palms to greet anybody).  
One more aspect to it which I came to know that when a Bengali Brahmin boy has his thread ceremony (‘Poitey’) after that he is not required to touch anyone’s feet except any elderly person who is Brahmin only. This happened years ago when one of our acquaintance boy who was younger to me stopped touching my grandparents feet even for Bijoya Dashami after his “Poitey” (FYI: We are Kayasthas- not Brahmins). What a hypocritical interpretation, as this Poitey certifies a young lad as Brahmin therefore everyone else is now belittled in front of his newly acquired Brahminism.
I still remember when just a couple of days after my marriage it was SG’s cousin’s marriage and I had to touch everyone’s feet (elders’ feet obviously…special instruction was given to me not to exempt anyone as this might cause a rift showing my less respect for that person). Believe me…I didn’t even looked at few faces as I was too busy in showing the ‘respect’. In this process I even touched feet of one of the distant relative of SG who was of same age as mine….she felt really bad as if I was trying to hide my age and prove myself younger to her ( you see many people are quite touchy about this age issue!!!).
So as per me, only few plus points of this custom are:
You can prove yourself young to other person.
Good exercise for deflating your tummy.
You can check out other person’s footwear very closely……eeeeekkk!!!
Jokes apart, I wonder how any particular custom like this can measure the magnitude of respect for any individual? I can very well touch someone’s feet with zero respect for him/her in my heart. Might be I am thinking as one-eyed deer, so if you think differently, I would like to hear your thoughts as well.


  1. A really really nice post I should say... coming from the south side, touching elder's feet is not very common as you have mentioned.. at least in my case.. I used to get blessings from my parents and grand parents on my bday (during the childhood). Sometimes, when some elderly ppl came home dad urged us to get their blessings too and we would abide. Since its not that frequent, I have not looked up on it from your point of view..

    Again, the way we touch the elder's feet is a bit different here.. A girl must bend down completely, touch the feet with both her hands and then touch touch her eyes..( like how we take the haarthi at temple) for 3 times. A boy on the other hand is expected to fall completely on the feet (A sastaang namaskar)and then do the same as a girl.

    I think no Indian wedding is complete with out this part. We were asked to get blessing from "I-dont-know-how-many-ppl". Now the problem is tht the husband's opinion differs in this regard. I had really ask (read as force) to make him satisfy our elders. :( I had no option too..

    Sorry for the long comment but I had thought flowing as soon as I read this post.. Good one that is.

    1. First thing first...i loved ur long comment...I know this custom is very much there in all Hindu communities be it North , South, East or West India...just the versions differ :-)

  2. I totally agree with you di.. one of the reasons I don't like to attend family weddings.
    @poitey thing - really hate it.. there are some customs which I never understood !
    I think I know that "acquaintance boy" you are talking about.. ;) :D

  3. Nice post.. But there are some people for whom I have no issues doing it, rather I like doing it.. And in case of those people whom I would see like once in many years or who didnt mattered to me, I would do it to satisfy my father and immediately wash my hands for having touched their dirty feet.. :P ..